Somehow, with all that has happened to our little family in the past 16 years [April 7th will be the 16 year anniversary of my first date with my husband—our first-date was a Passover Seder we attended together!], we have held on to the silverware that Len inherited from his mother when she passed away. It’s the only thing we have of hers besides an old diary that got water damaged in our house fire back in 2002. This silverware is one of the few things from our past that miraculously somehow survived the fire undamaged — as it was tucked away – wrapped in linen towels in a hardy little suitcase, in a still-unpacked box, in a closet, in the corner of the least-burnt-to-a-crisp room – that was farthest from the fire source!
My late mother-in-law received this silverware as a wedding present from her loving sister. She was born in 1930, and we’re pretty sure Esther (Evie) and Mordecai were married in 1956, so this silverware is likely from 1956. This is consistent with the issue date (found on many online antiquing sites) for this pattern [Blossom Time by International Silver] – of 1950 (with the production date range showing as “1950 to 1959”.). [It was a very popular pattern and is easy to find online.]
We use this silverware as our “every day flatware” – so that we have a reminder of my mother-in-law and a reminder of our family and everything we have been through and survived together over the years [it’s just mixed in with our Ikea and Williams Sonoma stainless steel pieces in the silverware drawer!]
When I tested it with an XRF it was about 940,000 ppm silver. It is Sterling silver, and – as all Sterling should be – it is stamped “Sterling”, (specifically “International Sterling”) on the back.
Sterling – both jewelry, flatware or other household items – will either be stamped “Sterling” or “925” on the back, if it is not stamped with either of those marks it is likely not solid silver – but possibly silver plated.
Silver plated flatware will likely have a yellowish tinge to it (compared to true sterling) and it may also have parts where the plating is more worn than others, so some levels of discoloration.
Sterling flatware pieces are generally all Sterling – with the one exception being knives. Knives (other than butter knives) are likely to have stainless steel blades and Sterling silver handles and you can see the seam / differentiation in the metal where the blade is attached to the handle.
“925 Silver” (Sterling Silver) means it is 925,000 parts per million silver (92.5%). Much of the 925 silver I have tested has actually been even higher silver content than that (usually 940,000 ppm silver or in that range), so my understanding is the 92.5% is likely a minimum standard in the silver industry, where it is expected to be at least 92.5% silver. The other 7.5% is generally copper, however it can be a mix of other metals.
In my experience so far (with the many, many silver items I have tested over the years), those other metals (in 925-stamped silver or silver marked “Sterling”) never include lead.
Note: truly antique silver that I have tested (mostly from the late-1800s and earlier) has tested as low as 800,000 ppm silver (or 80% silver), and those items often may have lead.
Based on my limited knowledge of the history of silver making (from some books I read in my history classes in high school!), with antique cast silver items, the initial designs and casting were often done in lead—since it was soft to sculpt and cheap to work with for a design medium; so this may have left some lead in the casting mold – and then (I imagine) the lead from the original sculpted design may contaminate the silver. [This is my theory as to why some of the older silver has lead at unsafe levels.]
The only time I have been particularly concerned about lead contamination in antique silver items (100+ years old) is with antique baby rattles (& teethers) that may be marked or sold as silver (but not “925” or “Sterling”), and therefore may have trace lead at levels that are considered unsafe for children by modern standards. I have tested some antique silver rattles that were positive for lead in the 800 to 2000 ppm range.
With the above understanding – in general I always say that Sterling silver (true sterling, marked as such – even vintage – 1930s, 1940s & 1950s Sterling) is a safe choice for my family and yours. It’s the one vintage item we use in our home on a daily basis and are comfortable using!
As always, please let me know if you have any questions.
Unexpected Lead Expert
Mother of Four Sons